Suresh Triveni on ‘Jalsa,’ starring Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah, that’s streaming on Prime Video, and his journey from advertising to cinema
Suresh Triveni debuted as writer-director with Tumhari Sulu starring Vidya Balan. The film revolved around an optimistic housewife who finds success as a radio show host. Five years later, Triveni has created a two-hander starring his favourite Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah. He describes Jalsa (on Amazon Prime Video from March 18th) as a story about complex human relations. In an exclusive interview with Man’s World, the director talks about the film, working with the Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah, his journey from advertising to cinema, and more. Edited excerpts:
What made you make a film like Jalsa? What do you want the audience to see?
I wanted to be excited about making a film, that’s where it starts for me. I don’t want to make a film because I am meant to but because I want to. Also, I think of things that can make me jittery about walking into the sets; what it is that can take me out of my comfort zone and that purely comes from the genre. Now, how do I make myself familiar with that and make myself slightly comfortable? It can be done by working with actors I adore and I share a level of comfort. I got Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah for Jalsa. I was working on multiple ideas, but this one stuck with me and I was able to find the fabulous writer Prajwal Chandrashekhar Shetty. He worked on the film and when he shared the first draft with me, I was blown away. Human emotions and unpredictability attached to the characters pushed me to work on Jalsa. We are constantly dwelling in the world of ethical dilemmas and it’s important to show that side of human character.
You have two strong female leads in the film. What made you choose Vidya and Shefali?
Before being a filmmaker, we are also consumers of the same medium. So, when you see fantastic actors like Vidya and Shefali, you imagine what if you bring them together, purely as a viewer. People are excited to watch two power-performers together and not because it is a Suresh Triveni film. I know it’s easy for them to play any character and as a director, it gives me satisfaction. Also, Vidya, after working on Tumhari Sulu, I knew that working with her, you are spoilt, and you want to go back to her with another film. So that was one single motive. After I watched Delhi Crime, and of course, I’ve been following Shefali’s work for some time. I was just too greedy and then I thought: What if I bring these two together?
Tumhari Sulu took the audience to the kind of cinema for which Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar, and Basu Chatterjee were known for and portrayed simple and easy to relate subjects with their viewers. What’s your take on this?
Tumhari Sulu was purely my greed to work with Vidya. I wanted to make a film with her all my life. I had pitched another story to her, but that never happened. I spontaneously narrated Tumhari Sulu to her – a story idea that I wrote in 30 days – and she loved it. When she agreed, I was the happiest. I was desperate to work with a talented woman. I can’t compare myself with Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar, and Basu Chatterjee – they are the legends – but Tumhari Sulu is a tribute to their world of cinema consciously.
From ad-making to feature filmmaking, how has the journey been?
From 30 seconds to 2 hours, it’s a long journey (laughs). The one common thing between the two mediums is that you have to tell the story in the most impactful manner. Yes, the grammar of it changes but it’s still similar. Ad-making helps me to hone my skills. The journey has been a long one but I have no complaints. I wanted to make the film since 2007 and finally made it in 2017 – just 10 years (laughs). I live with an imposter’s syndrome and keep questioning myself. I am thankful and lucky. I have put in a lot of hard work and my family has supported me throughout the journey. I also believe that I was at the right place, at the right time and there are far more talented directors than me. I was lucky to get that break and work harder.
How have you evolved as a director over the years?
It’s too short a span of a career to say if I have evolved as a director. I am constantly trying to do something better and different. A guy like me, who was sitting in Ranchi, was able to make films and fulfill his dreams is big. Was it tough? Yes, but which industry is not? We have a diverse audience and making something that everyone would like can be a challenge.
The debate between OTT and theatrical release is never-ending. As a director what made you opt to release Jalsa on streaming platforms?
I don’t see it like that. These mediums are complimenting each other. Who wouldn’t want to see their work on the big screen, but at the same time, they want people to watch it. We are in the transition phase and we are not sure what the future has in store for us; we are witnessing new formats every day. I think it is important as storytellers to explore mediums and see where you can take your films. It’s not about liking this medium or that medium, but if my film is reaching 240 countries and my work is being exposed to a wider audience, it is great. Both theatre and OTT platforms will sustain and will complement each other. I wanted to explore OTT space and that’s why chose to release Jalsa digitally. It’s a constant evolution and with the audience evolving, so are the stories.
As a director, how do you stay non-judgmental while telling a story?
By not over-intellectualizing it. As a filmmaker, you can take yourself too seriously but I am as good as any other professional. My job is to tell a story that can keep the audience engaged and if I cannot do that then I am a failure. I look at my films from a distance without being judgemental.
How do you want people to look at a Suresh Triveni film?
Theek thak banaya hoga… (laughs). People don’t care who I am for now. All I want is to engage people.
Any BTS moments from the sets?
Vidya and Shefali are called ‘intense actors’ but I’ll tell you the truth. I don’t think they were constantly serious and intense. These two can’t sit for a minute without doing anything; they are restless people and cannot sit quietly. I had to direct Vidya, Shefali, and Rohini Hattangadi in one scene. Imagine my situation. I anyway have no hair on my head but had to look like an intellectual director who is good at his craft. I stepped out of the sets, screamed at someone else, and came back as if nothing happened. I was the best actor in the role of a director. It was a difficult scene and all I wanted was it to be perfect.
Is there anything that you would never want to do?
Flashbacks. I would want to find a better tool to tell a story. I want to find a new way of telling a small-town story. I’ll never make jokes on bald men or do fat-shaming.
I am trying to make some films. I’ll be producing and directing them. I am also working on an action film.
(Featured Image Credits: Special arrangement)